Yesterday we looked at the doctrine of assurance in the Canons of Dort (1618-19). Today we turn to the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646), specifically Chapter 18 which focuses on “the Assurance of Grace and Salvation.”

Assurance is a gift available to every true believer. Although it is possible for “hypocrites and other unregenerate men” to deceive themselves with false hope of eternal life, God wants his children to be “certainly assured that they are in the state of grace.” This certainty is possible for those who truly believe in the Lord Jesus, love him in sincerity, and endeavor to walk in a good conscience before him (18.1). Notice again the language of “endeavoring”  (Dort speaks of “a serious and holy pursuit”). This is both an exhortation and a comfort for the Christian. On the one hand, we ought to strive for good works and a good conscience. On the other hand, we must remember that even endeavoring and pursuing are signs of God’s grace in us.

In 18.2, we find the same three grounds of assurance we found in Dort. The “infallible assurance of faith” is “founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidence of those graces. . . .[and] the testimony of the Spirit of adoption.” On the second point (evidences of grace), the Confessions lists four prooftexts:

  • 2 Peter 1:4-11 which urges us to make our calling and election sure by the diligent effort to grow in godliness and bear spiritual fruit.
  • 1 John 2:3 which testifies that we know we belong to God if we keep his commandments.
  • 1 John 3:14 which assures us that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers.
  • 2 Cor. 1:12 which speaks of rejoicing in the testimony of a good conscience.

Clearly, the Confession teaches that a transformed life is one sign (though not the cause) of our right standing with God.

Also as in Dort, the Confession allows that true believers may not always experience assurance in this life. Even the regenerate can be shaken and tempted to despair (18.4), for infallible assurance is not part of “the essence of faith” (18.3). We can wound the conscience and grieve the Spirit. God may, for a season, remove the light of his countenance from us (18.4). And yet, it is the duty of everyone to pursue assurance. We do not need “extraordinary revelation,” only the “right use of ordinary means” (18.3) This means we should be diligent to make our calling and election sure, that our hearts may be enlarged in peace and joy, in love and thankfulness, in strength and cheerfulness in obedience, which are the proper fruits of assurance (18.3).


The doctrine of assurance in the Canons of Dort is substantially the same as that in the Westminster Confession of Faith. Both enjoin the believer to pursue assurance, while also recognizing that believers don’t always have assurance. Both see the doctrine as an incentive to pursue godliness, not as a license to immorality. Both assume that assurance is available to the ordinary believer through ordinary means. And both teach the same three grounds for assurance: the promises of God, the testimony of the Spirit, and evidences of Christ’s work in our lives.

If you want to know if you are truly in Christ, forgiven of your sins, and sealed for eternal life, you should rest in the good news of justification by faith alone, listen for the Spirit speaking to your spirit that you are a child of God, and discern (with the help of others) that God is slowly but surely changing you from one degree of glory to the next. Different people at different times under different circumstances will need to hear about all three grounds of assurance. It matters whether you are introspective, doubting, weak in conscience, presumptuous, prone to trust your feelings, or prone to rely on nothing but reason. God motivates us and comforts us in different ways. All three grounds for assurance are Scriptural and given for the cure of souls and the care of God’s people.